High-Tech Problem Solvers

Ford built a high-speed bug launcher to test autonomous technology

Ford engineers have thought of a sloppy but ingenious way to test autonomous driving development technology.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Thwack! That distinctive sound of a bug hitting the windshield is something drivers are all too familiar with. While the smear of a bug may impact a driver's visibility for a moment, the effect it could have on an autonomous driving sensor could result in a catastrophic system failure. That's something Venky Krishnan, autonomous vehicle systems core supervisor, Ford Motor Company has to spend time thinking about.

In a new post on Medium, Krishnan describes the extensive efforts Ford is putting into keeping those sensors clean. "We've sprayed dirt and dust onto our self-driving vehicle sensors. We've showered LiDAR sensors with water to simulate rainfall. We created our own synthetic bird droppings and smeared it on camera lenses," he shared.

Ford Bug LauncherFord's autonomous driving technology prototypes include a collection of cameras, LiDAR and radar that needs to be kept clean.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

But that's not all. Ford enlisted the help of zoologist Mark Hostetler to help them discern which bugs are most likely to make contact with the sensors and how often those interactions happen.

The automaker even developed a bug launcher that allows them to shoot insects at vehicle sensors at high speeds, simulating the way they impact vehicles in the real world.

Ford Bug Cannon GIFFord has developed a cannon that shoots bugs onto its autonomous vehicle sensors to test how they operate under less than ideal conditions.GIF courtesy of Ford Motor Company

While the solutions are complex (the Ford team has already submitted over 50 patents worth of possible solutions to the issue), the issue may be best remedied by keeping autonomous vehicles from hitting bugs in the first place, according to Krishnan.

A new version of the system is now testing on Ford's third-generation self-driving test vehicle fleet in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Miami-Dade County and Washington, D.C. where the types of bugs and environments resulting in splatter vary greatly.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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Lincoln will not make a performance variant to compete with Cadillac.

Lincoln

TheLincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade have been duking it out at the top of luxury SUV rankings for decades, but there’s one area of the Caddy’s development that Lincoln won’t touch. In a recent interview, a company executive told Ford Authority that it has no plans to create a performance variant of the Navigator to compete with the upcoming Escalade V from Cadillac.

2022 Lincoln NavigatorThe new Navigator features several upscale touches and excellent tech. Lincoln

That means the Navigator will stick with the powertrain it’s carried for years, which is a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine that makes 440 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a smooth ten-speed automatic and either rear- or four-wheel drive. While there’s more than enough power to get the hulking Lincoln moving, it’s not a powertrain that inspires excitement or engagement, and though beefy, it’s tuned much more for comfort and quietness than drama.

Though more than adequate, those specs are a far cry from the numbers we expect from the Escalade V. The full-size bruiser from Cadillac is expected to get a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, similar to the unit seen in the CT5-V Blackwing and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We don’t know power numbers yet, but the engine should deliver horsepower and torque numbers in the high 600s.

Cadillac Escalade VThe Escalade V will be massively powerful. Cadillac

That Lincoln is taking a different approach isn’t surprising. The automaker has already announced its intention to go all-electric, so pouring more time and resources into creating a performance gas-powered SUV isn’t in line with its goals. Company executives have also expressed a desire to avoid imitating rivals, so the decision to leave a performance Navigator behind is not surprising.

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